The End Of An Era

There have been many momentous moments in the Doyle household over the last 12 months. We have said goodbye to toilet training and are now nappy free for the first time in a decade, hallelujah! The Stokke changing table and cot which had seemed to be a permanent part of our house and served us so well have been packed up and shipped off to a new home (I have my eye on you bugaboo buggy as the next target for expulsion). We are almost at the stage where apart from a bit of extra food chopping-up, the kids can all feed themselves, I hasten to add that the extra bit of food butchery is for our seven year old (Oscar) and not our three year old (Ella) who is quite determined to feed herself (most of the time). Now we stand but a week away from Ella’s debut in Montessori, which will mean that for the first time all our four kids will be education-bound and I’m not sure I’ll be able to handle the emotions of the day!

I mean we have had similar days in the past with the boys, but Ella is the baby of the house and she has also been my constant companion for the past two years since I became a stay-at-home parent. The joyous refrain of “today is a daddy and Ella day” has been a true highlight of not just my parenting years but my life, full-stop. Now things have become a bit more muddled in the last six months as I have had to share my Ella with her brothers, her working-from-home mommy (reluctantly as mommy seems to get more hugs than I do, not that I’m keeping score) and Auntie Orla while she stayed with us (which was okay because I knew she wouldn’t be around forever), but I know that the bond we have built between father and daughter in the past 24 months will stay with us forever.

Unfortunately Ella’s attendance at Montessori will also mean the end of one of my favourite rituals, daddy and Ella do brunch! In Glasnevin / Drumcondra / Phibsboro, we are blessed with a number of wonderful cafes and boy did we make use of this abundance of riches. First and foremost (and nearest to home) there is McMahons of Botanic Avenue which thoughtfully expanded its premises around the time I began my new gig. Always friendly, a purveyor of good coffee and I can’t recommend the fresh scones with cream and jam highly enough. Ella just loves the toast. A bit further afield is Two Boys Brew down on the North Circular Rd. Once again the coffee here is excellent but for me, the stand out item on the brunch menu is the overnight rolled oats. I was so impressed by this combination of oat-milk soaked oats, almond butter, fruit compote and mint that I started to make my own version (not nearly as nice but still a good and healthy start to the day).

Just around the corner from Two Boys Brew is the delightfully eccentric White Moose Cafe where the pancakes are top notch and Ella is always fascinated by the fact that there is a giant coffee cup outside. Back over in Drumcondra is the appropriately name Lovely Food Company. This place holds a special place in our hearts as it was the first cafe that we brought Ella to when she was only a week old. The food is fresh and excellent with a wide ranging choice on the menu. Just off Griffith Avenue is the more established name of Anderson’s Food Hall and Cafe which provides a truly excellent Irish breakfast for those in need of something more substantial. Ella enjoys looking at the stacked shelves around the place and it’s not bad for a bit of blue cheese or red pesto on your way out. Last but not least is Le Petit Breton creperie on the corner of Whitworth and Drucondra Road. This has become a particular favourite haunt and they know our order off by heart at this point, La Complete (crepe with ham, cheese and an egg) for yours truly and a hot croissant with homemade jam for Ella. The big windows are excellent for watching the busy world go by. We are always greeted with a smile despite the fact that Ella always seems to leave more of the croissant on the surrounding area than in her mouth.

In fact one thing that all these delightful places have in common is that the level of service is always top quality and the smiles that greet us are always genuine (or at least they are very good at faking it). I’d like to think that my natural charm has something to do with it but I know that my always cheerful daughter is probably the main reason!

So when I drop Ella off to Montessori for the first time it will be these happy memories that will sustain me, well they’ll keep me going for the hour until she is mine again (new arrivals are being eased into the Montessori experience so for the first week pick up time is 10.15am hip hip hooray. I’m already planning brunches!

Way Out West

Last week I blogged about our wonderful trip to the Aran Islands but our fun in Galway didn’t end there. While there were many positives, first of all let me deal with the big negative from our trip, the sleeping arrangements! We stayed in the Connacht Hotel in Galway and had access to a two bedroom family suite (to be clear no fault is attached to the lovely Connacht Hotel for our lack of sleep). We had looked at holiday rentals but in the end the access to the kids club, swimming pool and pancakes for breakfast trumped the alternatives. In theory, this reduced bedroom scenario (our four kids are spread over three bedrooms at home) seemed fine to us as, although it would be cramped sticking four kids into one bedroom, at least myself and Niki would have a room to ourselves to watch the odd episode of Suits! Ahh the naivete, you’d think that after 11 years of parenting we’d be able to figure out what was going to happen if we put all of our kids into one bedroom (including two sharing a double bed). Cue multiple outbursts of “stop kicking me!”, “he’s making me laugh!”, “it’s too hot I can’t sleep!” and that was just from yours truly! Apologies to those in rooms 4111 and 4113 if the shouting got a bit out of control at times. So it’s safe to say the sleeping arrangements were not a success but the waking hours more than made up for it.

At the top of the positives was the availability of good nourishment. We had worried that lack of access to our own cooking facilities would be an issue for our very picky eaters. We needn’t have worried. Our first port of call upon arrival in Galway was Dough Bros, well not the pizza restaurant itself (which is not upon to diners due to covid restrictions), but the outlet they have opened in O’Connells bar on Eyre Square. We have always made it our business to visit Dough Bros when we travel to the city of the tribes. This was our third visit and I can honestly say that the pizzas are the best in Ireland, the bases are light yet substantial and the toppings are innovative yet classic. I am thinking of getting an online petition to get them to open an outlet in Dublin. The arrangement with O’Connells seems to be a win-win situation with the patrons availing of quality food along with beverages of choice and the venue has a substantial beer garden / outdoor eating area. Also if pizzas aren’t your thing, there is also the option of Handsome Burger which operates out of the other end of the beer garden. My wife confirmed that the burgers were top quality and the boys loved the rosemary fries! It is no surprise that queues are a regular feature outside O’Connells but we were so impressed that we had to go there again on the eve of our departure, now that’s a ringing endorsement!

ForĀ  something a bit more upmarket we ventured to the excellent Brasserie on the Corner which is just around the corner from Eyre Square on Eglington Street. Now going upmarket with our kids is always a risky business but myself and Niki had a hunger for something which took more than 5 minutes to cook so we rolled the dice again and this time came up with a 12. As is customary these days, we sanitised ourselves thoroughly before being shown to our seats. The atmosphere was classy yet relaxed, the steaks (which myself and Niki both ordered) were excellent and the kids menu (along with the crayons which came with them) were sufficiently broad to cover all tastes and artistic temperaments! The “piece de resistance” was the dessert which included a black forest gateau ice-cream, all my dreams had just come true! Before leaving the topic of food (and my waistline shows that I should have left this topic halfway through our Galway sojourn, probably around the time the aforementioned ice cream arrived) I must give a special mention to The Gourmet Food Parlour, a local favourite down the road in Santry and also excellent in Salthill but without the Dublin GAA stars!

So apart from the culinary delights of the West, what else did we do on our trip? Well I got to wear my wet-suit for the first (and second) time. Now my boys have been wearing wet suits on holidays for a number of years, ever since Lidl had one of those middle aisle sales, but this year I decided to take the plunge (excuse the pun) as I could no longer face the bitter cold of the Atlantic without some insulation (excluding my natural version of course). Wet-suits are particularly difficult to carry-off with a graceful air especially when the zipping up process brings to mind William Shatner’s corset in his later Star Trek years, I’m thinking of you Wrath of Kaahhhnnn! But I was definitely glad for its warmth and buoyancy as I bobbed along searching for glimpses of fish and crabs (successfully in the Coral Strand but less so in Silver Strand). Speaking of the Coral Strand or Tra an Doilin as the locals in Carroroe like to call it, I made the fatal error of not bringing along my sandals with me and quickly went from “I don’t know what you “snowflakes” are complaining about, it’ll build character”, to “oh my god, the pain, the pain, I can’t walk please somebody carry me to my blanket”. The ultimate ignominy was when the plastic bag for my snorkel mask blew away and I had to be helped retrieve it by an elderly lady because I was chasing after it with the grace and athleticism of the proverbial cat on a hot tin roof!

So our holiday this year may not have taken in the delights of a French boulangerie, or the rush of water-sliding into an outdoor pool, or even my particular favourite pastime, the one hour browse through a hypermarche, but we did have some memorable times in Galway and the food was definitely to be recommended!

Food Inglorious Food

As most parents will know, a lot of time is spent trying to get the right amount and the right kind of food into your children. For me there are probably three main criteria for my kids’ food. It should be filling, healthy (or relatively so) and not overly burdensome to make (preferably can be done in batches). With dinners, I have taken the use it or lose it approach, i.e. eat it because you’re not getting anything else and things have been going rather well on that front. Packed lunches were a different matter and I was really struggling to get combinations that worked for the three boys. I made numerous attempts at different combinations of cheeses, mozzarella, pate, bread, rice, crackers, rice crackers, pasta, grapes, peppers, strawberries, hams, salami, etc. There was always something that just wasn’t quite right, not enough butter, too much pate on one-side, pasta too soggy, rice not at the correct temperature. This is all before taking into account the sudden changes in taste which frequently occurs in the palates of young boys. It can be very frustrating and it led to the implementation of a rule whereby all leftover food from the lunchbox had to be consumed before the boys were allowed do anything fun post school. This initially resulted in much grumbling but then in the period leading up to Easter I noticed that less and less reject food was coming home in the lunchboxes. Eureka, but just when I thought I had it cracked something comes out of left field to show me how wrong I was. In this case it was a blocked toilet!

Now this is not the first time we have had a blocked toilet and usually a bit of vigorous flushing and some good spray work with the garden-hose in the outside drains was enough to get flow levels back to normal, except this time it was different. When the blockage was dislodged we (or rather I should say Niki who was wielding the hose at the time) couldn’t help but notice something rather unusual. Along with the usual “stuff” going through the pipes, there were an awful lot of whole vegetables! Now, either the boys have very mild digestive systems or the luscious cherry tomatoes, olives, etc., which had been acquired at the local organic farmers market were somehow making their way into our sewage by nefarious methods!

A quick bit of AC-12 style interrogation (a couple of questions for non Line of Duty fans) brought about a full confession from Lochlan, our second child. It became clear that rather than eat the vegetables his doting father had lovingly acquired and prepared for him, Lochlan preferred to sneak them into his pockets when he was removing his lunchbox from his schoolbag on returning from school. He would then take a short trip to the downstairs toilet, wrap the aforementioned items in copious amounts of toilet paper and flush away to his heart’s content. And he would have gotten away with it if he hadn’t blocked up our entire sewerage system. This does make me wonder what other ingenious schemes the boys have gotten up to in order to get around my house rules. Maybe random friskings will become a feature going forward!

On a related matter, I rediscovered last week how horrible sour milk actually smells. Oscar had left a milk carton in the normally unused front pocket of his bag before the Easter holidays and it had obviously slipped through my intensive screening system! Now it would have been fine if the milk carton had remained intact, but somehow a significant quantity of liquid had managed to seep out of it. It still amazes me that he was able to scoot into school with the bag on his back and spend the whole day in class without anyone noticing the stench. It was only after Oscar’s bag had spent 10 minutes in the confined space of our car on the way home from school that it became clear to my senses that something was seriously wrong. It is to my eternal shame that Ella was my first suspect when it came to finding the putrid smell but after she was given the all clear we quickly identified the culprit and it has been rehabilitating with some bicarbonate of soda ever since. Safe to say it has not been a good week but hey, the weather is getting better so that’s something!